It's been a long road to Cesar Reyes' first restaurant. The youngest of 15 children in Mexico, his father hoped he would take over the family butcher shop. Reyes decided to come to America instead and go to school to be an engineer. But the call of cooking was too strong to ignore, and starting in 1989 he continuously worked his way up the ranks of a laundry list of local restaurants: Spruce, Nine, Smith & Wollensky, Park Grill, Chicago Firehouse, the doomed 33 Club, and most recently Zapatista, working alongside the likes of Sean McClain and Jerry Kleiner.
When the owner of Real Tenochtitlan called and said they were having problems, Reyes decided to take the plunge into his first ownership venture and buy them out. And, as his father might have hoped, it'll be a Latino steakhouse, opening April 18 as Polanco.
Reyes will helm the operation, front to back of the house, with his brother running the kitchen. The whole project is an homage to Polanco, the most affluent and cultured neighborhood in Mexico City. It will have twists on traditional steakhouse themes, including portraits of Polanco politicians instead of Chicago mayors.
Calling the food program "upscale Mexican," Reyes says "anything you can get at a downtown steakhouse you can get here." Steaks (using Chicago 250 meat, sourced within 250 miles) will come with four sauces: Chimichurri, bordelaise, chile morita, and herb citrus. There's wet age, dry age and lamb shank; a variety of fishes, pork chop al pastor, two pastas and a half roasted chicken fill out the entrees. A house specialty will be a daily-changing "yesterday" soup, cooked for 12-24 hours. Appetizer highlights include ceviche, pork wing carnitas, and sweet plantain-infused gnocchi.
For drinks, they'll serve classic steakhouse and Latino cocktails, think margaritas, mojitos martinis. Beer will be both Latino and craft. Look for 50 tequilas and mezcals, in addtion to other spirits and wines.
The large space holds 160, broken into multiple sections. The main dining room has a bar section on the right and dining room on the left, an eight-seat chef's table dividing them and serving a prix fixe six-course menu for $65-80. Another bar is in the rear, and an indoor front patio will feel breezes from wall-to-wall front windows. A 30-seat private dining area is upstairs with windows overlooking the dining room and a private bar.
High tin ceilings, muted off-whites and wood-paneling in front, decorated with maps and photos of Polanco, comprise the look. Latino big band jazz will pump through speakers.
Reyes will also hold a monthly free-form cooking class where he'll take groups to a market, have them pick out ingredients and say "create a dish with that." He envisions closing at 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. They'll serve Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Family history and 23 years working his way through local steakhouses are coming to a head at Polanco, opening April 18.